When the American Pet Products Association (APPA) released its 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey, the data revealed several important trends, including one that was an important factor during COVID: APPA’s survey noted that approximately 73 percent of pet owners agreed that pets bring family members closer together.
For many Americans, the humanization of pets has moved beyond trend and into the norm. Increasingly, pet owners see their companion animals as part of the family – so much so that “fur baby” has become part of the vernacular. A large portion of today’s consumers desire to provide their pets with human-like products, including food, treats and health care.
As consumers spend more than ever on their pets, and with Millennials leading all generations in doing so, it is becoming evident that high fashion is becoming a category worth noting. Manufacturers are using the highest quality materials available to produce the most luxurious, jaw-dropping products ever to hit the pet market.
Ashley Harris is founder and CEO of Bark Fifth Avenue, a fashion boutique that specializes in all things “high-end pooch.” According to Harris, she has seen an unprecedented spike in haute couture sales since the start of the pandemic, which she doesn’t expect to change for the foreseeable future.
“As far as pet fashion is concerned, all I can say is Chanel, Chanel and more Chanel,” she noted as the standout brand over the past year. Other styles that are trending with her customers include Swarovski studded sunglasses, graphic printed tees and dresses, pearls, fringes, faux fur and plenty of charms and pet jewelry.
“Given these oh-so-fashion-forward trends, just exactly who is looking for such fashion worthy apparel and accessories for their pet?” Harris queried. “It’s the fashion-conscious pet parent, of course! In the case of my store, 83 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 34 are seeking such luxury couture for their pets. Not surprising, as we know pet humanization has been a thing for a while now… and who wouldn’t want to put an amazing pair of Swarovski studded glasses on their pooch!”
Bestia Custom Dog Gear, one of the newest pet brands on the market, was created with the mission to make genuine leather dog collars that are of the same quality as leather apparel for people. Founded by Viktor Nedkov in 2015 in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria, Bestia specializes in the manufacturing of high-quality, premium leather accessories for dogs; especially large breeds.
When crafting its genuine leather collars, harnesses and leashes, the brand imports the finest belt leathers from Germany, Greece, Spain and Italy. Bestia ensures that its leathers are ethically sourced and vegetable-tanned with natural oils that are eco-friendly. In addition, Bestia’s collars and harnesses are padded with orthopedic foam for maximum comfort. The foam is covered with napa leather, which makes it resistible but also soft and comfortable.
The brand, which exhibited its line of luxury collars and harness last month at SuperZoo in Las Vegas, recently launched its Morelia Python line of collars and harnesses, which Bestia describes as a “piece of art, combining the thick black base layer leather with the python leather.”
The underside of the collar features Bestia’s patented soft lamb leather and foam cushion for maximum comfort for the dog’s neck. Available in a black-blue style, the Morelia Python collar is designed to fit on large or giant breeds, including mastiffs, Rottweilers and Cane Corsi.
For medium- to large-sized dogs, the brand has its new Red Dragon harness, which has an eye-catching appearance by combining a thick black base layer leather with a red python leather. The medium-sized harness comes with one chest strap, which the large, extra-large and double-extra-large sizes have two chest straps.
Due to the popularity of the line, Bestia has developed matching leashes, collars and basket muzzles in the Red Dragon design.
As the connections between pets and their owners grows stronger, a growing number of brands – both human and pet – are innovating their products as pet owners seek for more humanized apparel options for pets.
Personalized clothing, licensed outfits and luxury accessories like eyewear and collars, are a growing part of today’s pet products as consumers try to up their game on social media, where millennials are apt to post about their fur baby.
One notable brand is Fresh Pawz, which describes itself as a different breed of accessories that bridges the gap between streetwear culture and the canine companion. Fresh Pawz founder Christopher Cargnoni views his typical customer as a dog owner between the age of 20 and 35, who is into pop culture, reads websites like Complex magazine and Hyperbeast, and shops at fashion forward retailers like Nordstrom’s and Zumiez.
“The main reason we created Fresh Pawz was to add what we felt what was missing in the pet fashion market,” Cargnoni said, adding that Fresh Paws has taken what is traditionally a mundane product selection and — thanks to his brand’s high quality and exclusive designs — made it exciting and relevant.
When Cargnoni noticed there was no representation of the streetwear pop culture world in the pet market two years ago, he tagged Fresh Pawz as “the official streetwear brand for dogs” and even trademarked the slogan. He feels that young consumers “want brands they connect with, and when they see our designs they connect right away and it’s hard for them to not make a purchase.”
With licensing agreements that include Hello Kitty, Care Bears, Nickelodeon and Major League Baseball, Fresh Pawz boats a wide variety of streetwear-inspired accessories for dogs, such as leashes, collars, harnesses, hoodies and rain jackets. The brand’s most recent product launch is its dog sneaker, the Beluga 544, named after the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (Public Law 89-544) and the color beluga.
Premiumization is a hot trend, and luxury pet products are starting to make their way to the forefront. It’s no surprise to see pets dressed to the nines, thanks to consumers giving their fur babies the “Mini-Me” treatment. Social media is a platform for many of today’s pet parents to showcase their beloved fur babies and tell the world what makes them so special.
Sam Carrell has two Internet sensations in her remarkably photogenic dogs Tinkerbelle and Belle, a pair of papitese (papillon-maltese mix) pups. Tinkerbelle first popped up on Instagram back in 2013, a year after Carrell adopted the cute canine from a Long Island, New York animal shelter when Tinkerbelle was just 9 months old.
Carrell, an actress and professional dancer, started Tinkerbelle’s Instagram account initially to share photos of the ridiculously cute pup with her family and friends. In just a few months, managing Tinkerbelle’s social media presence and endorsements had snowballed into a near full-time job. Belle joined the family in 2021, and both pups share the Tinkerbelle the Dog Instagram account, which has approximately 500,000 followers.
Tinkerbelle’s big break came in the form of being stopped on the street by an agent, who asked to have Tinkerbelle appear in Ralph Lauren’s “The Dog Walk” fashion campaign with shelter dogs in 2013. As the face of the print and video campaign, Tinkerbelle’s image appeared on buses, posters and billboards throughout the city, and soon brands were reaching out to Carrell.
Notable high fashion brands that have worked with the self-proclaimed “diva dog” include Gucci, Burberry, Maxbone, wagwear, Otello and MiAmore Pets.
“These brands are very classic and chic,” Carrell said. “They show off Tinkerbelle The Dog’s style and personality. Each brand has designed clothing for Tinkerbelle to wear at events, photo shoots and/or appearances. They’re one-of-a-kind haute couture and the outfits usually only appear once in public as a celebrity can never repeat an outfit.”
What is it about these brands that attracts Carrell to their product lines?
“These outfits are designed with Tinkerbelle in mind, so they’re high-end fashion model designs,” she explained. “They always draw extra attention from the media and press. Tinkerbelle The Dog stands out from other influencer pets, and these are timeless outfits that keep her looking classy, tasteful and refined.”
“Tinkerbelle makes everything look elegant,” noted Gina Davis, co-founder and fashion designer for Dog Threads, a family-owned business that designs stylish clothing for pets and their owners. “She has us all craving the jetsetter lifestyle, and her sense of style is better than most humans.”
Tinkerbelle’s social media photos typically range from her being a fashion diva showing off her Henri Bendel collar, Mendota Products leash or other awe-inspiring wardrobe, rocking her favorite sunglasses while lounging poolside at a luxury hotel or posing in front of a recognizable monument. In fact, wagwear, the New York-based designer pet clothing company, creates Tinkerbelle’s one-of-a-kind, custom-made outfits for her special appearances on the red carpet.
A wide range of manufacturers are making use of pet influencers like Tinkerbelle, who has become a magnet for such apparel companies as Poochie Boots and Canada Pooch. In fact, Canada Pooch designs swim shirts that have UV protection, something that comes in handy since both Tinkerbelle and Belle have a tendency to get sunburn due to the light shade of their fur.
“When we booked Tinkerbelle to model and launch our boots, we created the size 0 just to fit Tink’s tiny feet,” recalled Karyn Pek, founder of Poochie Boots. “Tinkerbelle is a wonderful and professional model. We also made her an assortment of straps, from gingham to glitter. Her paws are protected, and her shoe game is always on point.”
“Working with Tinkerbelle always goes seamlessly,” explained Danica Brett, assistant brand manager at Canada Pooch, the clothing company that makes highly fashionable-yet-functional coats, sweaters and boots for dogs. “She is a fashion icon, and we love outfitting her with Canada Pooch products to help keep her stylish, trendy and protected from the elements.”
Belle has been in the spotlight herself, appearing on a January 2022 episode of Saturday Night Live, where she acted alongside of Willem Dafoe, who was hosting the show. With two dogs now modeling pet apparel, Carrell has noticed a shift in the high fashion sector of the pet industry over the past year.
“I noticed that what’s changed in the pet fashion industry is that it was originally over the top and not day-to-day wear,” she explained. “Pet clothing now is more humanized. Pups can now wear a polo shirt or a jean vest, whereas it used to be everything out there was very costume-y … everything was very over the top. But that’s been changing. There’s so much more ready-to-wear as opposed to couture lines.”
As Carrell describes it, there’s simply more pet apparel options than ever before, and today’s pet clothing is very “humanized.” There’s a near-endless array of high fashion, which includes everything from DKNY windbreakers to Ralph Lauren cashmere sweaters to luxurious collars from brands like Gucci and Italy-based Trilly tutti Brilli.
In fact, according to Carrell, collars are an important part to her dog’s wardrobe. She even feels that her social media posts with Tinkberbelle and Belle wearing collars are the ones that generate the “most buzz.”
“Collars make a difference,” Carrell said. “I like something that’s different and not ordinary. A good collar makes the look crisper, it makes the outfit pop, it completes the ensemble.”
It’s no surprise to Carrell when her dogs receive a great deal of attention while they model high-end apparel and accessories. However, she doesn’t have to be in New York City for her to get the attention of pet lovers. One such example occurred during a recent photo shoot involving Belle in a bathing suit.
“The bathing suits started with a one-piece from the Martha Stewart line — those were so cute,” Carrell recalled. “Then Fitwarm sent me a bunch of two-piece bikinis that are made for tiny pups and cats. I had Belle in the Fitwarm bikini for a photo shoot at a pool, and it drew a big crowd. People were coming up to me asking, ‘Where did you get that bikini? It’s so cute!’ ”
What has helped to drive this change?
“A lot more designers are jumping on companion animal clothing designs,” Carrell noted. “It’s great to see these designers partnering with pet supply stores; for example, Christian Cowan is partnering with Maxbone, Heron Preston has partnered with V.I.P. [Very Important Puppies]. These are all high-end lines of pet clothing to begin with, but when you add a prestigious designer to them, it ups it even more. It makes it more appealing to people.”
Thanks to such fur babies as Tinkerbelle and Belle, combined with the high craftsmanship and chic designs of innovative pet brands, pet retailers will be able to offer elegant and luxurious apparel that will continue to attract the attention of Millennials and other pet parents who want to be at the forefront of the high fashion trend. After all, fashionable pets are the ultimate statement that supports the humanization of companion animals.